November 17, 2008 // Franchising.com // – In the midst of an economic downturn that has forced many restaurants to seek bankruptcy protection or close their doors altogether, Minnesota-based chain Baja Sol Restaurants Group, Inc. today announced plans to add 20 Baja Sol Tortilla Grills and 10 Baja Sol Cantinas throughout Minnesota and the Midwest, beginning with five new franchised Cantina locations in the Twin Cities, a Grill location in Woodbury, MN as well as new locations in Chicago, IL and Columbus, OH.
"Even though other concepts have been struggling in this economy, Baja Sol has remained strong and continued to grow," said Baja Sol president Bridget Sutton. "Baja Sol is the second largest Mexican restaurant chain in the Twin Cities. The Twin Cities is where Baja Sol was born and bred, and our fan base here has been very good to us. Expanding now is a natural extension of the brand in our hometown as well as the rest of the Midwest."
Sutton cited the increasing availability of good real estate and more reasonable leasing and construction costs as two reasons for the expansion; however, she also cited the continuing growth of Latin food and culture as well. No other single cuisine is growing as fast or has stronger long term growth potential as Mexican and Latin cuisine. For example, in 1990, Mexican food accounted for just $3.75 billion in US restaurant sales. In 2008, Mexican food sales will approach $16 billion, with no end in sight.
The strong popularity of Baja Sol itself drove the company's decision to launch such an aggressive expansion. Its new food kiosk at the Xcel Energy Center, part of a corporate sponsorship deal Baja Sol struck with the Minnesota Wild, is outpacing last year's sales of Xcel's non-branded Mexican food by 40%. Baja Sol Tortilla Grill, the company's fast casual concept, has seen significant same-store sales increases during the last two years. The new Baja Sol Cantina is a departure from typical themed Mexican restaurants. It is a full service concept that stresses fresh ingredients and contemporary recipes. While the menu contains all the most popular Mexican dishes – including its top-selling enchiladas – it also features more Pan Latin and Island fare, including Peach Mango Tilapia and Tequila Honey Lime Shrimp.
Both concepts feature Baja Sol's award-winning all-you-can-eat salsa bar featuring nine different salsas made fresh in its kitchens every day. The salsa bar is free for every guest who orders an entrée, which Sutton says creates a unique value that guests appreciate and return for again and again. Sutton added that Baja Sol works hard to create value for its guests by providing specially priced kids' meals for families, catering with delivery services and online ordering for guests' convenience.
Baja Sol Restaurants Group is working with area developers and select owner-operator franchisees to implement its expansion plan in Minnesota, Chicago, Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest. Additional franchisee candidates who understand the value and benefit of a franchise system, who can appreciate the growth potential in the Latin food segment and who have a proven track record in business are also under consideration.